John: Lesson 7: Jesus Goes to “Court” (John 5:30-47)

After Jesus heals a paralyzed man on the Sabbath, others begin to oppose Him publicly.  Jesus refutes the charges of violating the Sabbath based on His identity as the faithful Son who only does what He receives from the Father.  “The Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing.  For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise” (John 5:19).

By using the “healing” motif in the Old Testament as a way to describe salvation, Jesus turns this healing into a teaching moment.  “For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself” (John 5:26).  This healing points to the life in the Son, which He gives.

Jesus now goes on to teach to how He and the Father are one.  So, if Jesus is guilty of violating the Sabbath so is the Father.  But how can Jesus show this to be true based on the Old-Covenant Law?  To do this, Jesus must call in witnesses who will testify on His behalf.


Bringing in the Witnesses

Witness # 1

Read John 5:30-31

  • Consider Jesus’ words: “If I alone bear witness about myself, my testimony is not true.” What does this have to do with the truthfulness of what is said?


Deuteronomy 19:15: One witness cannot establish any iniquity or sin against a person, whatever that person has done.  A fact must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.  The Jewish tradition also asserted the same: “None may be believed when he testifies of himself….  None may testify of himself” (Mishnah Ketuboth 2:9).

Jesus means if the burden of evidence to support His claims depends only His own testimony, His witness must be false.  For He just said everything he says and does, which includes His witness, is nothing other than a reflection of His perfect obedience to God the Father (John 5:19, 30).  Because of that, God the Father will provide further proof.

Read John 5:32-35

  • Who is the first witness Jesus brings out to testify to His authority? (vs. 33)


  • Why is it important to believe John’s testimony of Jesus is true? (vs. 34)


“burning and shining lamp”: “Lamp,” luchnos in the Greek.  Here, Jesus alludes to Psalm 132:17 as a prophecy of John the Baptizer’s work.  From the Septuagint: “There I will make a horn grow for David; I have prepared a lamp [luchnos] for my anointed one [christos].”


Witness # 2

Read John 5:36

  • What else testifies to Jesus being who He says He is?


  • What purpose does His “signs” provide to attest to His identity?


Even Nicodemus realized Jesus’ “signs” testified to who He was.   “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him” (John 3:2).  Will those Jesus is speaking to fail to move beyond the “little” signs to the greater one: Jesus heals for eternal life?


Witness # 3

Read John 5:37-38

  • Who testifies of Jesus? How?


Excursus: “His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen” 

Jesus is not referring to His baptism, where God the Father did speak!  He’s bringing His listeners back to the time of Israel’s wilderness wanderings and forcing them to grapple with Scripture.  “Then the Lord spoke to you [the people of Israel during the giving of the 10 Commandments] from the fire.  You kept hearing the sound of the words, but didn’t see a form; there was only a voice” (Deuteronomy 4:12).

If the Israelites heard the Lord’s voice at Sinai but didn’t hear the Father’s voice, whose voice did they hear?  Jesus implies the people heard Him, as the pre-incarnate manifestation of the divine Word.  This passage helped shape the well-known Advent hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”:

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might, Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height In ancient times didst give the Law In cloud and majesty and awe. [LSB 357, stanza 3]

Notice Jesus is the One who “didst give the Law.”  Of course, this may seem outlandish to Jesus’ listeners, so let’s see if Jesus will bring in another witness.


  • Why don’t they believe in Jesus?


“You don’t have his word residing in you”: Right now, “how” Jesus comes to reside in someone is not addressed.  John will let us know how this takes place in the next chapter.

  • When starting out on this discourse, Jesus was the accused. What does He now become?


Witness # 4

Read John 5:39-40

  • Who or what is the 4th witness?


  • Why can’t they recognize the Scriptures testifying of Jesus?


This is one of six passages in John’s Gospel where Scripture or a writer of Old-Testament Scripture is said to write of Christ, though no specific passage is mentioned: John 1:45; 2:22; 3:10; 5:39, 45-46; and 20:9.



The Old Testament testifies to Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s promises to save.  The truth of this comes only by faith in Jesus and working of the Holy Spirit in the believer (John 12:16, 14:26).  They, however, prefer their understanding of Scripture to the living, personal presence of the Word before them.

  • Discuss, who or what has greater authority, Jesus or the Scriptures?


  • What did the Jews make out of Scripture?


  • How do people make an idol out of Scripture today?


Witness # 5

Read John 5:41-43a

  • How does Jesus conclude that those to whom He is speaking “do not have the love of God within” them? (vs. 43)


Jesus’ coming could not be any more drenched with Jesus being identified as God.  In their “interpretations,” the people are, instead, drenched in the “god” of their own making.

Read John 43b-47

  • What did much of the religion of Judaism devolve into during Jesus’ day? (vs 44)


“How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God”: “can,” from the Greek dunamai, meaning having power or ability.  In other words, the idol of seeking glory from something other than God keeps someone from being able to believe.

  • Thus, who is the one who keeps someone from believing in the true Jesus?


“[Moses] wrote of me”: Pointing to the world’s future redemption, Moses described the Messiah as a Redeemer (Genesis 3:15), a King (Genesis 49:10), and a Prophet like himself (Deuteronomy 18:15-19).  Many pinned their hope on Moses, not in the One of whom he wrote.

Charged with sinning against the Sabbath, Jesus pleads “not guilty.”  Why?  He didn’t act on His own authority but did what the Father sent Him to do.  Even more, His healing on the Sabbath is a virtuous, holy action testifying to the eternal life one receives by being in Him (John 5:38).

For this claim to have credibility, Jesus will need two or three witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:15) because someone speaking on his own behalf has little standing in the court (John 8:13).  Though only two witnesses are needed (John 8:17-18, Deuteronomy 19:15, Mishnah Ketuboth 2.9), Jesus calls five:

  1. John the Baptizer (5:33),
  2.  His miracles (5:36),
  3. God the Father (5:37),
  4. The Scriptures (5:39), and
  5. Moses (5:46).


Excursus: Jesus’ Three-Fold Condemnation of His Jewish Listeners and What That Means

First, those listening to Jesus do not hear God’s voice.  Their forefather, Moses, did (Exodus 33:11).  Since Jesus speaks the words of God (John 3:34, 17:8), and the Jews do not hear God’s voice in Jesus, Jesus is pointing out they are not true followers of Moses.  Moses now becomes their accuser, for if they believed Moses, they would believe in Jesus (John 5:45-47).

Second, they do not see God’s form–unlike Jacob (renamed “Israel”), who saw God’s form (Genesis 32:30-31, the Greek eidos is both here and in the LXX).  Since Jesus is the revelation of God to and for humanity (John 1:18, 14:9), and the Jews do not see God in Jesus, He is showing how they are not true Israelites.

Third, God’s Word doesn’t dwell in them, unlike Joshua (Joshua 1:8-9) or David (Psalm 19:11).  They hid God’s Word in their hearts, meditated on it, and learned to repent of their sins against God.  For they understood God’s eternal blessing came with the indwelling of this Word.  Since Jesus is the Word of God (John 1:1), and His listeners say this is not true, they will (unless they come to faith) miss out on the eternal blessings of Joshua and David.

“In many portions and many ways, God spoke to his people of old by the prophets” (Hebrews 1:1).  All of them, however, anticipated the supreme Revelation, Jesus, the Messiah.  For “now in these last days, he has spoken to us by his Son” (Hebrews 1:2), who is the Word incarnate (1:14).  Jesus is the fulfillment of those prophecies of old.  Failure to believe in Jesus, no matter how exacting the scholarship (“you search the Scriptures,” John 5:39), is rejecting, misunderstanding, and disobeying the Revelation Himself.

The danger for us in the Church is to take our institutionalized “personal interpretations” (even the ones of “we have no tradition”) and make them into idols.  These “traditions,” because they shape someone’s interpretational matrix, allow someone to believe what he wants even when those beliefs disagree with Scripture, as the Jews did some 2,000 years ago.